Newcastle & Chelsea have had a tumultuous recent history, with Newcastle winning last season’s finale 3-0 but missing out on a point in the reverse fixture in August, by a margin of 1 goal.
While Chelsea remains in Champions League positions, their attack has dried up in the past couple weeks, as their manager Maurizio Sarri experiments with “False 9” attack. The defence remains stout though, allowing them to take 7 points from a possible 12 as they sort the new approach.
Newcastle has had trouble scoring, but this has been a season-long issue rather than a recent trend. Their last time out saw them struggle to control a home game against Championship side Blackburn Rovers and, in the league, they had only nicked 2 points from a possible 12.
Chelsea In Possession
When Chelsea had the ball, their shape resembled a 4-3-3 formation. Primarily, they built attacks with short passing, as those types comprised 92% of all their combined passing. They heavily preferred to operate through their left flank, with 47% of their attacks featured on that side.
In defence, Newcastle setup in their now-standard 5-4-1 shape. Their defensive pressure was somewhat conservative, as riskier defensive moves weren’t initiated until Chelsea reached the final third.
Newcastle In Possession
When Newcastle had the ball, they funnelled play to the wings: 80% of their attacking moves occurred through the flanks, favouring the right side slightly more than the left. A key part of our attacks came from Florian Lejeune, who had the most touches of any Newcastle outfield player, as well as the most the completed passed (44 of 59 attempts).
Salomón Rondón was a secondary attacking outlet, functioning as a target man. When Dubravka, Lejeune, or Ciaran Clark were launching diagonals forward, Rondón was key in trapping and releasing the ball to the nearest supporting attacker. If passes to centre-backs & Dubravka were ignored, then Newcastle’s most prolific passing combos were Rondón to Ritchie (7) and Rondón to Pérez (6).
In defence, Chelsea had a persistent counter-press and were able to win the ball back in promising positions. Despite having possession 65% of the time, Chelsea were nearly equal to Newcastle in successful tackles (18 to 22) and interceptions (13 to 19).
Most of the defensive actions took place in the middle third & Newcastle’s third, as only 4 tackles and 2 interceptions occurred in Chelsea’s third.
Key Tactical Points
Chelsea’s Shape in Attack
When Newcastle deploys 3 centre-backs, there is a tactical trade that happens: the midfielder or attacker is converted into a defender. In practice, this means a player with more of technically proficient skill set that is positioned closer to opposition’s goal is now a centre-back that won’t stray from their own third.
By extension, counter-attacks lose a lot of potential for variation and flexibility. However, the stoutness at the back is supposed to be worth the trade-off.
But if that backline that’s used to operating in a low block is forced up the pitch into a mid-block position, then the opposition’s attackers will have acres of space to run into.
With Willian on the flank, Eden Hazard as the centre forward, and Pedro on the right side, Chelsea positioned their attackers so that Newcastle’s backline were unable to take up their normal low block preference.
They took positions just outside the Newcastle final third, which allowed them space to break into whenever long balls or throughballs were played in. This meant that even though Chelsea dominated possession, the space between their backline and their attackers was atypically short.
Combine that with Hazard’s movement & positioning, and Chelsea found a few opportunities to slip by Newcastle’s backline.
The Blues demonstrated 2 attacking threat types against Newcastle. The first saw Luiz operate as the long ball specialist, playing passes that weren’t too dissimilar to what Newcastle fans are accustomed to seeing from Jonjo Shelvey. The other threat was the interplay on the edge of the box between the front 3 and supporting full backs.
For the first one, Newcastle came up short. Luiz was able to pull off this move several types in the game. The first preventive action would have been to press Luiz through one of Rondon, Atsu or Perez, allowing the other 2 time to help Hayden and Longstaff in midfield. Sadly, this was never attempted.
The other would have been to ensure the backline was organised and able to catch the Chelsea runner offside. Unfortunately, it took until the 75th minute for an attacker to be offside from a Luiz long ball.
Chance Creation with 5 at the Back
The obvious route to goal when setting up defensively is the counter attack. But credit to Chelsea, who were very good defensively and didn’t overcommit in numbers and expose a flank to be countered in the game.
With the wing backs and ‘tucked in’ forwards that Atsu and Ayoze become in this formation, a new solution needed to be found. Opportunities in build up were limited with Newcastle only having a 34% possession share.
The main outlet was Lejeune. A welcome return to the side for the Frenchman saw plenty of composed long balls (7) that found their man out wide. It was then up to Yedlin-Perez or Ritchie-Atsu to combine and create danger. Attacking breakdowns happened here, with Chelsea getting enough numbers back to dispossess the Magpies in wide areas, or force us backwards, as seen in the clip below.
The other route to goal was the long ball to Rondon to flick it on for a runner in behind. Ayoze benefited from such a chance in the first half but put it wide. Atsu and Rondon also combined in the first half after a knockdown to give the Venezuelan a half-chance.
With the extra defender, it’s important to utilise the width as there aren’t enough numbers in the middle (nor the passing quality of late) to cut through the opposition. On this occasion, admittedly against tough opposition, Newcastle failed to make this work.
Against Cardiff might be a more realistic assessment of chance creation, but it might be preferable to revert to a back 4 and try to keep the ball higher up the pitch with an extra body to launch attacks.
How The Goals Happened
9′ Pedro (CHE 1-0 NEW)
David Luiz plays a ball over the top from his own half. Newcastle, despite being out of possession, were not lined up in a solid shape at the back, with the gap between Lascelles and Clark too big.
The defensive block was also positioned beyond the 18-yard box, which gave Pedro ample room to line up his run to meet the ball in a dangerous area.
It was a superb ball from Luiz, catching the defence by surprise and also tasking Dubravka with the tough decision of coming out to sweep it or try narrowing the shooting angle for Pedro. Pedro took it down excellently and kept his composure to lob it over the Slovakian after escaping the attentions of Clark.
40′ Clark (CHE 1-1 NEW)
From a Newcastle corner, Chelsea set up a zonal marking approach with 3 defenders near the obvious threat of Rondon. The ball from Ritchie was hit with a lot of power and Clark guided it superbly in the bottom corner, with Luiz scrambling to get to it before him, but at a disadvantage since he was not positioned close enough to Clark when the ball was delivered.
57′ Willian (CHE 2-1 NEW)
Chelsea worked the ball to Hazard who, typical of a false 9, dropped deep to receive the ball. Lejeune noticed this and rushed out to try to intercept the ball before the Belgian could cause damage.
Whenever Newcastle line up with 3 centre backs, 1 seems to be allowed to rush out and defend higher up, it has worked positively on some occasions given behind that defender there is still a traditional back 4.
On this occasion however Yedlin, instead of staying wide, moved closer to the centre backs which gave Willian ample room once Hazard spun Lejeune and worked the ball to him.
Once Willian received the ball, Lejeune and Yedlin did make attempts to get across and close the shooting angle but by then he’d shaped himself for the shot and finished it superbly beyond Dubravka.
By The Numbers
David Luiz [MotM]
In a game that saw plenty of decent defending, a vulnerability that was exposed was the Newcastle backline struggling with the Brazilian’s ball over the top. Luiz was able to put Willian and Pedro in on multiple occasions and when Newcastle were working the ball on the ground he defended well.
His one shortcoming was aerial duels, only winning 1 in the game and crucially losing concentration as Clark headed in the equaliser. The positives outweighed the negatives for the ex-Benfica man, however, as without him Chelsea may not have been able to secure the 3 points.
Florian Lejeune [MotM]
It was not a flawless performance from the centre back, on what was his return to Premier League action after an ACL injury. There is no disgrace in being spun by a player as good as Hazard in the build up to the 2nd goal but it proved to be a critical moment in the game.
In possession he was very assured, often launching our attacks by finding players in space out wide and also assisting Dubravka in playing out for the back without inviting danger. His inclusion also had a positive impact on the performance of Lascelles, who was the only defender with more clearances than Lejeune.
With injuries and the Asian Cup depriving options of a selection already bereft of top-drawer quality, Newcastle United put in a very commendable performance at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea were the better side and deserved full points. They created more dangerous chances, and their defence nullified Newcastle’s open-play attacks. Rafa perhaps puts it better:
“You could see a lot of positives with the performance but no points. We knew that they would keep the ball and we had to maximise what we did when we got the ball.
We had some chances on the counter but our final pass wasn’t there.”